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HPV Bill: Preventive Medicine, or Unfunded Mandate?

A bill that would have offered seventh-grade students the human papillomavirus vaccine on a voluntary basis with parental consent, beginning with the upcoming school year, was vetoed by Gov. Nikki Haley on Tuesday.

In her veto letter, Haley said the bill “is a precursor to another taxpayer-funded healthcare mandate.”

The Cervical Cancer Prevention Act would have also required the state Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) to provide parents with educational brochures on the sexually-transmitted infection that has been linked to several cancers, cervical being the most common.

The man behind the bill is 27-year-old S. C. Rep. Bakari Sellers, D-Bamberg.

“I thought it was a progressive piece of legislation,” said Sellers when asked why he chose to sponsor the bill. “At the end of the day, it saves lives and money.”

The HPV virus has affected about 20 million people nationwide, most in their teens and 20s, according to the DHEC website. More than 150 strains of HPV have been identified and two  are responsible for about 70 percent of all cervical cancer cases, according to the National Cancer Institute.

South Carolina ranks 9th in the nation for deaths related to cervical cancer, according to the DHEC website.

Controversy has followed the Cervical Cancer Prevention Act since its inception back in 2007 when its main sponsor was Rep. Joan Brady, R-Richland.

That legislation, co-sponsored by Sellers, would have required all girls entering the seventh grade to be inoculated; but after the South Carolina Baptist Association and a group that advocated abstinence raised vocal opposition, Brady moved to kill her own bill, with no objection from the General Assembly.

Haley was serving her second term as a state representative when she co-sponsored Brady’s bill. In spite of the uproar, Haley remained a sponsor, but ultimately voted against the measure.

Reservations about the Cervical Cancer Prevention Act generally stem from a fear that giving the HPV vaccine to young girls will permit or promote promiscuity.

“I don’t entertain that nonsense,” said Sellers. He described a hypothetical situation where a young woman may not be sexually active until marriage, but if her spouse has been sexually active, she may still be at risk for HPV infection.

It now falls to the General Assembly whether to override Haley’s veto of the bill. To override, both the House and Senate must vote by a two-thirds majority.

Sellers formulated most of the language in the bill, and he points out that the word “adolescent” would have made South Carolina the only state in the union to offer the vaccine to both boys and girls.

Only two legislators voted against the bill: Sen. Lee Bright and Sen. Shane Martin, both R-Spartanburg.

When asked why he voted against the bill, Martin said he “had no idea” what The Nerve was talking about.

Bright said the vaccine is already available if parents wish to inoculate their children. “The bill doesn’t really do anything,” he said.

“There are so many different strands of HPV that they won’t get the protection they think they’ll be getting,” Bright added.

In her veto message, Haley took a similar stance, describing the bill as “superfluous” and saying it “carries no weight.”

Sellers said such language does not “adequately describe what’s going on in the legislation.”

Reach Weston at (803) 254-4411 or kelli@thenerve.org.

General Assembly Legislation State Agencies

Rep. Bakari Sellers HPV Rep. Joan Brady Gov. Nikki Haley